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Hurricane Irma, destruction & loss

October 14th, 2017 | Tags: Dickson Igwe hurricane Irma shock destruction grief
Dickson Igwe. Photo: VINO
Dickson Igwe

The following story is part of a series on Hurricane Irma: A STORY OF DISASTER: HURRICANE IRMA AND THE VIRGIN ISLANDS. Hurricane Irma, a monster Hurricane, struck the Virgin Islands on September 6, 2017. Irma was the strongest hurricane to have visited the Caribbean in recorded history. Its impact to the Virgin Islands meant the worst disaster to visit the Virgin Islands since the 1800s. Irma was the Virgin Islands 911.

Now there are lessons to be learned from the Hurricane Irma tragedy.

Irma was a devourer that ate up the lives and livelihoods of Virgin Islands residents, and the residents of various Caribbean islands similarly impacted, such as Saint Martin and Saint Thomas. Irma devastated the social, administrative, economic, and physical infrastructure, of the Virgin Islands.

Economic and physical infrastructure damages to the Virgin Islands from Irma will amount to billions of dollars. The exact figure is unknown. However, one prominent insurer offered a figure of over 200 million dollars in liabilities for his organisation. That appears a very conservative number considering the devastation. Then there are the damages that cannot be easily estimated: the social and psychological impact of the storm.

A visit to various yacht harbours on the island of Tortola such as Nanny Cay, Hodges Creek Marina, and the nearby enclave where scores of yachts and boats seek refuge during hurricanes, or the Moorings on the Island of Tortola, after the Hurricane, was a surreal experience.

Yachts, boats, and various sea vessels, were piled up, one upon the other, like heaps of garbage. Many were million dollar plus vessels.

Similarly, parts of the island that sat car rentals, and car showrooms and garages, or spaces where cars were parked, such as the Central Administration Complex, and the car park opposite Peebles hospital that runs to the Road Town Ferry Dock; these spaces became junkyards for new cars, with smashed cars, piled up in heaps.

The main hangar at the Terrence B Lettsome International Airport and the stands at the Ellis Thomas Downs Racehorse Track were mangled beyond recognition. The narrative around the country held the common theme of total devastation.

Irma did not simply destroy the physical infrastructure of the Virgin Islands, it devastated the economy. Irma destroyed the tourism industry which will have to be rebuilt.

Thankfully, because of the nature of financial services, and the fact that it is a digitally driven industry, the impact of Irma on the country’s financial and banking industry will not be as terrible as the impact on the tourism and retail sector. This is where the benefits of a hyper connected globalised world are most evident.

Irma destroyed the livelihoods of thousands in the private sector, especially those in the tourism and retail sectors.

Public Servants will have to be much more aware of the need to manage scarce resources efficiently, as the loss of public revenues becomes more manifest in the months ahead. Government workers will have to become labourers cleaning and restoring their offices and departments to pre Irma standards.

As businesses rebuild, thousands of workers will be laid off with tragic financial and social implications for families.

Then there is the loss of home and life. Despite the fact that there were deaths in the single figures, the stress from personal loss from Irma, will trigger depression and sadness that will be widespread, requiring months of professional intervention and management.

The loss of a home and business for an elderly person is a much more traumatic experience, after a lifetime of working to build a secure financial life.

Now, psychologists and professionals in related fields talk about the SEVEN STAGES of GRIEF: stage 1 is shock; stage 2 is guilt; stage 3 denial; stage 4 anger; stage 5 depression; stage 6 grief; stage 7 acceptance.   

The country, together with its residents, will pass through these various stages until the society comes to the full acceptance of the loss and devastation the country suffered.

The loss of a home is tantamount to bereavement. The shock of the total destruction Irma wreaked on the Virgin Islands will have to be worked out mentally. Like the death of a loved one, the grieving process will take time. For some it takes years to get over the shock of sudden loss. 

Therefore residents must be allowed to grieve. Residents must be allowed to express their genuine feelings about their experiences of Irma. Some individuals will require professional counseling and psychiatric intervention. Facing the psychological implications on the community from Irma squarely will get the country back on its feet faster.

This is not the time for acting like everything is normal and OK. The country has suffered a tragic loss. The man of granite will sooner or later experience his vulnerability to bereavement, if he has had heavy loss in the storm. Ignoring the social and psychological implications of what the country experienced on September 6, 2017 is simply unhealthy.

Full acceptance of the devastating social and economic consequences of Irma on private and corporate life will take time to achieve. It may be shorter for some, but we all, in one way or another, will have to go through the grieving process, and its seven stages.

Then the true rebirth of the Virgin Islands can proceed.

To be continued…

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